Tougher penalties could be answer to diving hell
Tips and advice from the betting industry insider
The hot topic coming out of last weekend’s Premier League football, not for the first time, was diving. Marcus Rashford, Leroy Sane, Harry Kane and Lucas all hit the spotlight for what were either clear dives or possibly exaggerated tumbles in the box.
Don't worry, this is not a column about diving. It has been almost everywhere you look in the national press or on the internet, and I’m bored of it, so what follows is not another pointless opinion to make you yawn on how damaging diving is, how to punish it or how best to stamp it out.
What I would like to do, however, is consider a possible rule change in football which is relevant to diving, because most diving (or at least most of the ones we hear about endlessly) takes place inside the penalty area.
In football, whenever anyone suggests even the slightest tinkering to a rule (or law as we’re urged to refer to them by school teacher types) my first reaction tends to be one of caution.
There’s a reason football is the most popular sport on the planet. Naturally there are things which could be done better, but in general the game evolves yet continues to entertain us whatever the new tactical fad might be, so scepticism of any major change is well-founded.
That shouldn’t stop us discussing the possibility, or even trialling at some level of the game,
something radical if it could make a great sport greater. The backpass rule is a good example of change which made football better. Anything that could make the sport better should be considered.
My first reaction tends to be cautious, along the lines of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so I can hardly criticise others for feeling the same. But I think the time has come to look at a radical change.
It’s penalties that are bugging me, and the amount of finely balanced games which penalty
decisions are having a huge influence on. In so many cases they’re not clear-cut decisions, and/or would never had led to a meaningful goalscoring chance anyway, whether they were a legitimate foul, a blatant dive or anything in between.
The problem I have is with the value of a penalty. In the top European leagues over the past decade 76 per cent of penalties awarded have been scored. That means awarding a penalty has a value of 0.76 of a goal to the attacking team.
In a sport where games tend to average around 2.5 goals, whenever a penalty is awarded we can say that almost one-third of the expected scoring output in that game comes from the awarded penalty.
That’s what brings us back to diving, the subject we definitely weren’t discussing today. Did Rashford dive? Sane? Lucas? Kane? I don’t know, and I don’t really care.
My issue is not with these judgement calls needing to be made by officials, nor with them occasionally getting them wrong – they’re human and making decisions at full pace with only one look at it is hard.
But none of those situations the players found themselves in warranted the award of 0.76 of a goal when the whistle blew (or didn’t blow, rightly, in Lucas’s case) whether they were fouled or not.
So how can we fix it? This is the bit people find ridiculous, because any discussion of a new rule sounds outlandish at first. But here’s what I’d do.
Hockey has two types of penalties for different offences. A penalty corner and a penalty stroke.
Football could trial something similar. Where a clear goalscoring opportunity is denied, from a one-on-one situation or a handball on the goalline, the penalty as it is now works fine.
But where incidents occur which weren’t clear scoring opportunities, or which referees can’t be sure completely warrant an attempt from 12 yards, we can have a second penalty spot on the edge of the box.
Exactly the same rules as a normal penalty, but from 18 yards rather than 12. I don’t know exactly how many of those would be scored of course, because we’ve never tried it, but I think it would be well below half.
Goalkeepers would be able to wait before diving, rather than guessing which way to go, so you’d have to hit it very cleanly into the corner to beat them. I’d hazard a guess at around a 25 to 30 per cent success rate.
Rather than awarding 0.76 of a goal, you’re probably awarding around one-third of that. It would prevent so many matches being decided by the awarding, or non-awarding, of a penalty. And it would add a new in-game situation which would make football more interesting too.
It would clearly need a bit more thinking about, but I’m not Gianni Infantino, so I’m happy just to provide him some ideas free of charge. I really think it’s something that should be looked into, but I realise I may be on my own.
That’s okay. At least I didn’t write a whole column about diving.
Toffees value to deliver big blow to the Swans
Since beginning writing this column at the turn of the year, I haven't advised a bet on a Premier League match. The reason for that is I find that generally any value which did exist earlier in the week tends to have been snaffled by Friday.
It’s a league in which both bookmaker and punter know everything. There’s round-the-clock reporting and every piece of injury news hits us on Sky Sports News or Twitter in an instant.
It’s a hard league in which to find anything others may have missed. So this will be my first Premier League recommendation, and there may well not be another for some time.
Swansea are desperate for three points at home to Everton in a bid to win the points to avoid relegation. Everton have little to play for.
They’re the seventh-best team in England and whatever happens over the next three weeks, they’re almost certainly going to finish seventh. There's no shame in that.
A couple of weeks ago I’d have made The Toffees around 6-5 to win at Swansea. Now, with Swansea’s battle reaching desperation stage, we can back Everton at 13-8. I believe the difference in those two prices is a fraction too much, and as a result believe Everton are value.
Finally, on the final day in the Sky Bet Championship on Sunday, Blackburn - another team desperate for a win - travel to Brentford. Blackburn may be relegated even if they win, and almost certainly will be if they lose. Brentford, meanwhile, have little need to win the game.
But Dean Smith’s side have been real eyecatchers in the second half of the season. They’ve regularly had one of the younger average ages of starting line-up in the division and have scored 74 goals, a number bettered only by Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich.
They could have gone down without a fight at Fulham last week, when the Cottagers needed the win to secure a playoff place, but they didn’t. Far from it. They drew 1-1 and had a goal to win the game disallowed in the dying minutes.
Brentford are a team to keep an eye on over the summer and are clearly building a platform from which a top-six challenge next season seems realistic.
I don’t see them wanting to end a season full of so much good work with anything less than a strong performance. At 6-4 they are worth supporting.
1pt 13-8 Betfair
1pt 6-4 general